Call centre telemarketers laid off
-in advance of US Do-Not-Call registry By Gitanjali Singh

Stabroek News
July 30, 2003

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Seventy-eight operators with Atlantic TeleCentre (ATC) were sent home last week as the firm began preparing for the effects of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling blocking telemarketers from calling persons on the newly formed Do-Not-Call registry.

This is aimed at blocking out calls from telemarketers, which many consumers say is an annoyance.

ATC has kept only 36 of its workers and is now looking at the outsourcing aspect of the telemarketing business, Chairman, Cornelius Prior told Stabroek News yesterday from the US Virgin Islands. More than half of ATC’s business involves cold-call telemarketing and its major clients are large cellular telephone companies.

ATC, located at the former Shoe World site on the East Coast Demerara, was the first web-based Call Centre set up in Guyana in 2000, but officially opened for business in 2001. It is involved in telemarketing (promoting the products of US companies by calling up customers in the US) and outsourcing (taking calls on behalf of US businesses to do with customer queries and orders).

However, the FCC along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on June 26 established a national Do-Not-Call registry in response to complaints from consumers that they are bombarded with unwanted telemarketing calls.

This registry covers commercial interstate and intrastate telemarketing calls and consumers wishing to be rid of telemarketers can register their telephone numbers on the registry. This can be done on-line. The registry becomes effective from October 1 when all telemarketers would be prohibited from contacting persons on that list or face a penalty.

Consumers registered on the national registry would be able to provide prior express permission in writing to companies from whom they wish to continue receiving telemarketing calls. In addition to this, company-specific do-not-call lists established before the national registry, would still be available for consumers who wish to avoid telemarketing calls from specific companies only.

Telemarketers would be free to continue to call individuals who have not placed their number on the Do-Not-Call registry and those with whom they have an established business relationship. Calls or messages from tax-exempt, non-profit organisations are exempt from the Commission’s rules by statute.

Prior told Stabroek News yesterday that the establishment of this registry had caused a huge reduction in the demand for Call Centre activities and ATC was now looking to see if it could attract other kinds of businesses such as outsourcing. The reduction has hit newer companies more than more established ones.

He remains optimistic about the prospects of the centre which, should have turned a profit this year since its establishment but has not been able to do so. The first phase of the investment into ATC was US$2M.

Prior said while the success of ATC could not be predicted work was ongoing to ensure it was in business and could turn a profit.

He said it was going to be difficult to compete with American companies in the shrinking market but ATC would keep working at it.

The laid-off workers, though aware of the company’s plan to downsize, were caught completely off-guard by the extent of the staff cut.

“I was not expecting it to come this soon... but I knew it would’ve come sooner or later,” said a worker who spoke with Stabroek News yesterday, adding that the staff-turnover over the period had always been consistent.

She said workers were officially informed of the company’s plans at a staff meeting last Friday, when they were also served with letters of redundancy.

The letter, which informed workers that they were redundant with immediate effect, July 25th, 2003, stated that the decision to reduce the workforce, including upper and middle management employees, was based on an evaluation of the company’s overall performance.

“You would doubtlessly be aware of our declining fortunes and (fruitless) efforts in attracting new clients, having attended our weekly open forum meetings and updates. ATC currently finds itself with no prospects of new or additional business,” the letter states.

Workers were told that they would be entitled to salary due for the current pay period, plus pay in lieu of notice, redundancy pay under the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act 1997 and other miscellaneous benefits.

The company also informed the workers that it would maintain its Guyana operation on a small scale, while they were promised that “as new development and growth opportunities arise,” they would be given “first opportunity for re-employment.”

ATC was started up in 2000 and had 114 employees at the time it was hit by the Do-Not-Call registry. The firm was hoping to have 600 full-time staff on three eight-hour shifts once business picked up. It also had plans to establish satellite locations around the country.

ATC is a sister company of the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company Limited. (Additional reporting by Andre Haynes)

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